Experts

‘We do not have long to act’

Since the real estate company owned by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, started doing business in Maryland in 2013, it has been the state’s most aggressive practitioner of a controversial debt-collection method called body attachment, where a landlord gets a judge to order the arrest of former tenants who fail to appear in court for allegations of unpaid rent, fines, and fees, The Baltimore Sun reports, citing court records. In all, 20 former tenants have been detained, and a dozen have filed for personal bankruptcy protection to avoid arrest.

Kushner Cos. owns 17 apartment complexes with nearly 9,000 units in Maryland, mostly in the Baltimore area, and pays other firms to manage them. The company earns at least $30 million in profit a year off $90 million in revenue from the properties, The Baltimore Sun reports, and the Kushner-controlled entities have managed to collect $1 million out of the $5.4 million in judge-approved judgments against 1,250 tenants since 2013, averaging $4,400 per judgment including original debt, court costs, lawyer fees, and interest.

Kushner Cos. “follows guidelines consistent with industry standards” and state law, and its management partner, Westminster Management, “only takes legal action against a tenant when absolutely necessary,” company CFO Jennifer McLean said in a statement. And real estate interests say that body attachments — for former tenants who miss two court appointments — can be the only way to make delinquent tenants pay up. At least some tenants say they were never notified of the court dates, or dispute the money owed.

Not all collection agencies use body attachments, in part because “they don’t want to risk the public relations issue,” Amy Hennen at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service tells the Sun. Garnishing wages, which can be ruinous for poor people barely scraping by, is “harsh” enough, she said. “But certainly the body attachment is probably the worst, because we’re talking about what is effectively a debtors’ prison, which is something out of Charles Dickens.” You can read more at The Baltimore Sun. Peter Weber

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